Running back tandem makes history
Walk-on freshman Hamm impresses in collegiate debut
During an afternoon when sophomore quarterback David Watford looked to be off his mark early — throwing a pair of first-quarter interceptions — Virginia needed a catalyst to kick-start its offense. The Cavaliers found what they were looking for and then some in their rushing attack, running for more than 300 yards for the first time since 2004.
After a scoreless opening quarter, it didn’t take long for Virginia to get on the board. Junior running back Kevin Parks cut back and burst into the open field to go 61 yards untouched for a touchdown. The big play proved to be exactly what the struggling Watford needed.
“It was a sigh of relief for me,” Watford said. “His touchdown really took a little bit of weight off of our shoulders as an offense.”
Parks would deliver one more touchdown before halftime, seeing the field on one more play the rest of the game. The star running back finished with two touchdowns and a career-best 135 rushing yards, in addition to 69 receiving yards. Watford credited the success of Parks and the other running backs for his ability to bounce back from his early turnovers.
“It makes it a lot easier for me,” Watford said. “When they can’t stop our run it just opens up for the passing game. A lot of times they were in Cover-4, and that’s how I was able to hit [senior wide receiver] Tim [Smith] on that deep ball for the touchdown.”
But as prolific as Parks was against the Keydet defense, he was not the Cavaliers’ leading rusher Saturday. With junior Khalek Shepherd and freshman Taquan Mizzell still nursing sprains from the Oregon game, the team called upon freshman walk-on running back Daniel Hamm to lighten Parks’ workload.
“I was nervous at first,” Hamm added. “The first play I went in there was a penalty and I came back out and I didn’t get to run the ball. But after the first hit, it was pretty good.”
Making his collegiate debut, Hamm took his first carry midway through the second quarter for 11 yards. Entering the locker room at halftime with 20 yards on three carries, few could have predicted what would happen next — including Hamm.
The freshman kicked off his coming-out party after the break, scoring his first career touchdown 34 seconds into the half. Hamm managed to one-up Parks’ 135 yard rushing output, and capped his day with another touchdown run early in the fourth quarter. The pair of running backs became the first Virginia tandem to rush for more than 100 yards each since Jason Snelling and Wali Lundy accomplished the feat in 2005.
It was an unbelievable first performance for the athlete from Wytheville, Va. who was not offered a football scholarship by any school — including VMI — and planned to come to Virginia to run track.
“Senior year was my first time being a running back, so I did not expect to be recruited anywhere,” Hamm said. “I was more focused on track. Then the track coach from U.Va. came to one of my high school games and he said he thought that I could play football for U.Va.”
After a meeting with Virginia football coaches, the team decided to offer Hamm a preferred walk-on spot. Shortly after, however, Hamm found himself facing a tough choice.
“Virginia Tech offered me a preferred walk-on at the same time as U.Va.,” Hamm said. “My mom graduated from Virginia Tech so it was definitely a difficult decision, but I think it was worth it now.”
At the time of his entry into the game, Hamm didn’t even have a picture on his VirginiaSports.com profile. But before the game ended, that issue had been addressed. Though Hamm claimed he didn’t expect such an impressive performance out of himself, his teammates disagreed.
“I called it during the week — I told coach Fairchild that Hamm was going to have 150 yards rushing,” Watford said. “I knew he was going to have a hell of a performance because he practices just like that … I just didn’t know he was going to score that many touchdowns.”
Watford, however, did make sure to let Hamm know that he fell short of his 150-yard prediction for the freshman. Hamm took time after the game to address his quarterback’s concerns.
“There was actually a pass play that went for about  yards, so I came pretty close to 150 all-purpose,” Hamm said. “I kind of talked to him about that and he was like, ‘Okay, okay, I can take it.’”
Vegetarians beware, with bad “Hamm” puns and nicknames now abounding throughout the Virginia football community, Cavalier fans are likely to see a lot more Hamm in the years to come. Though he will likely be relegated to the sidelines again for now upon the return of Shepherd and Mizzell, the freshman will surely remember Saturday’s win for a long time.
“A lot of the players and coaches came out and told me they were proud of me,” Hamm said. “It was a great performance, I couldn’t ask for anything better as my first game played in college.”